The first man who bought a juicer bought it not for drinking juice

Lu Chunsheng

Exhibition: Nov 6, 2008 – Jan 11, 2009

The debut of Chunsheng’s film The first man who bought a juicer bought it not for drinking juice falls almost exactly eighty years after the original broadcast of Orson Welles’ radio play The War of the Worlds, the inspiration for the artist’s Artpace project. Welles’ feature, a fictional account of an alien invasion, was thought by many to be a realistic news bulletin and incited panic across the nation. The widespread misinterpretation of Welles’ “report” illustrates the precariousness of human perception and the disturbing influence of technology and mass media on collective action, particularly with regard to paranoia. Chunsheng’s film documents the mechanical workings of a combine, a machine used for harvesting grain. The first man who bought a juicer bought it not for drinking juice has all the trappings of a classic science fiction scenario, showing technology as a creation that threatens to undermine and enslave its creator.

The combine, one of only two protagonists in the film, can be likened to a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster. The machine, which is cared for by a mechanic, is constantly in need of repair. The documentation of the combine, from its “birth” in a factory to its ”life” as it works in a field, is steeped in symbolism, casting man and machine in a relationship in which humanity is doomed to serve the slave it has created to serve itself.

In this not so subtle critique of science and industry, The first man who bought a juicer bought it not for drinking juice joins sweeping panoramic shots of Texas farmland with long-take footage of the combine to create a diametrical opposition between the natural world and the manufactured environment. The American heartland is pictured as under siege by the rapacious forces of technology.

Chunsheng’s past work is similarly informed by themes of implacable industry and human struggle. His actors are often shown in a state of perpetual malaise, repeating pointless exercises with no apparent resolution or engaging in absurd physical conflicts, like the mechanic in The first man who bought a juicer bought it not for drinking juice who toils endlessly to maintain his machine. In Chunsheng’s world, people are reduced to automatons, figures that represent the consequences of the communal thinking brought about by both mass production and political oppression. His work seems to suggest that while technological progress may improve the quality of life, it also heightens social impotence. Couched in the films of a young Chinese national who came of age in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and China’s shift away from Mao-Tse Tung’s agrarian collectivization, the implications of this message are enormous.


Lu Chunsheng

Shanghai, China

Chinese artist Lu Chunsheng’s video and photographic works integrate documentary-style imagery with fictional epic narratives. His characters explore fantastic landscapes, flowing in and out of settings of transition and change. Chunsheng’s use of long-take footage and panoramic vistas reinforces this surreal aesthetic, which leads to a highly theatrical, disorienting presentation.
Lu Chunsheng was born in Changchun, China. He has had solo exhibitions at The Red Mansion Foundation, London, England (2008); Paradise Theatre, BizArt Art Center, Shanghai, China (2006); and Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, The Central Academy of Arts, Beijing, China (2006). His work has been included in many group exhibitions, including the 37th International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2008); The 10th International Istanbul Biennial, Turkey (2007); The 27th São Paulo Biennial, Brazil (2006); Masculinities, NBK, Berlin, Germany (2005); Le Moine et le demon, Lyon Contemporary Art Museum, France (2004); and China Now, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2004).

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Hans Ulrich Obrist

London, England

Hans Ulrich-Obrist is the Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programs and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery in London, positions created for Ulrich-Obrist in April 2006. As a curator at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France since 2000, among many other exhibitions he organized solo shows with Jonas Mekas (2003), Anri Sala (2004), and Cerith Wyn Evans (2006). Before this position Ulrich-Obrist was an independent curator for a decade, organizing the group show Take Me I’m Yours at the Serpentine (1995) and Retrace Your Steps: Remember at the John Soane Museum (1999), also in London, England. Ulrich-Obrist was a panelist in 1998 for the 1999-2000 year of artists, and was invited to be a speaker at the 2003 symposium, but was unable to come due to illness.
Photo by Dominik Gigler

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